Braunton Burrows, the core of the North Devon UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, is quite unlike anywhere else in the region. It’s a weird dune landscape carpeted with flowers in summer and with a uniquely wild atmosphere in winter.
And at the other side of the dune system you’ll find the far reaches of Saunton Sands – a huge, and here largely deserted, beach – if you get that far.
About 477 plants have been found here over the years – that’s roughly a quarter of the total for the UK. The best time to see them is from early June through July (though other times are still definitely worth a visit). And the best way to see them is with a guide who can make the ecology of this amazing place come to life. A guide will also help you through what can be a confusing landscape (last time we went, armed with a map and a GPS, it was remarkable how many people stopped us with no idea where they were).
There are sometimes guided walks and other events during the summer. You can also check out the Braunton Burrows Countryside Centre website to find out what’s on.
If you want to go on your own, ask us and we’ll probably be able to loan you a large scale map – the ordnance survey landranger one really won’t give you the detail you need.
What to see…
If you’re interested in the flowers we can lend you Mary Breed’s colour guide to the flowers of the Burrows – ask at the house. There are some real treasures here.
If you set out from the Sandy Lane car park, eastern end, a good track quickly brings you within sight of flag pole dune – the largest moving dune on the Burrows. It’s not going anywhere fast though – it’s been roughly where it is now for about 20 years, slowly moving inland as the wind blows the sand. Because there’s not much in the way of mobile dunes and most of the burrows are pretty stable it’s OK to climb it – you’re not committing an act of ecological vandalism. And that’s according to John Breeds, who has about 30 years of experience of this special place.
But don’t be fooled into thinking that all that sand means you’re near the sea – it’s probably a kilometre or so of ‘up and down’ from flag pole dune to the beach. If you’re going for a real walk, a GPS, or at least a compass, is very handy.
You’re likely to find pools, or wet ‘slacks’ in some of the dune hollows. They’re fresh, not brackish, and support important plants and animals. Please take care not to spoil them.
You can have a fabulous time exploring, but if you want to see something really unexpected, try to get to Venner’s pond. Ask us and we’ll give you a grid reference – you’re pretty unlikely to find it any other way if you go on your own as it’s surrounded by vegetation and tricky to spot.
Water lilies – not exactly what you’d expect to find at the centre of a dune system. Not exactly natural either – apparently introduced many years ago by someone who just liked them. And then there are the goldfish too – perhaps they got too big for their bowl…
The Burrows are about 26 miles from our eco lodges and cottage.
by train and bike (for fit adults)
If you don’t have a car, the best way to get to the Burrows is to bike to Eggesford Station (4 miles) and take your bike on the train to Barnstaple. There, you’ll find the Tarka Trail right outside the station, and it will take you out to Crow Point and the Burrows. It’s 7 miles out, so you’re looking at roughly 22 miles cycling in your day: one for the more energetic!
To get there by car, head up to Barnstaple, and at the roundabout just outside Bishop’s Tawton where the A377 joins the A39, turn left, crossing the Taw. At the next roundabout turn right and just keep on the A361 until you get to the village of Braunton. Go through Braunton following signs for Croyde. Just after two sets of traffic lights turn left onto Caen Road. Keep going out of the village centre. On the right there will still be houses, but on the left you’re back to countryside. There’s a small turning, marked only with a brown tourist sign for a nursery. Go down here, until you come to a T junction at a white building. Go left here and continue until you reach Sandy Lane car park. It’s usually open and has plenty of room but no facilities (nearest loos are back in Braunton, in Caen Street car park – you’ll pass it as you go through Braunton. The Braunton Countryside Centre is there too). If Sandy Lane car park is shut you can park on the verge, but take care not to obstruct access.
Who owns the Burrows?
The Braunton Burrows are owned by the Christie Estate (the same family to own Glyndebourne opera house in Sussex) but are leased to the army for training. You’ll probably see plenty of soldiers and cadets dressed rather more formally than yourselves. You may also come across empty bullet cases etc. It’s best to leave well alone, although the army very rarely have live firing here now (there would be red flags flying to warn you if there was any going on), and if they do they are extremely careful to account for their ammunition.
You can take your dog, but please spare a thought for the low-nutrient dune ecology and pick up after your dog! So many dogs are walked here that parts of the dune system, particularly around the car parks, show signs of nutrient enrichment with changing species, more stinging nettles etc. Please take dog poo away and dispose of it properly.
More about the Biosphere Reserve
If you want to know more about the North Devon Biosphere Reserve, of which the dunes are the core and most important part, see the reserve’s website.